One of the debates that I have followed/been engaged in is whether gender differences are completely societal or are to some degree inherent. I’ve engaged in debate on the subject several times, but mostly it is a conversation that I have read about in various books. My main source on the subject is Steven Pinker’s Blank Slate. Pinker wrote the book was because he wanted to argue against the notion that we are purely products of society.
I am generally sympathetic to Pinker’s case, but I’ve begun to question the stakes of the debate. What is it that the two sides are actually arguing about? There is a scientific argument that is underlying the conversation, but I’m not sure that is actually the centre of the controversy. I’m inclined to think that the actual subject under debate is much more political. It seems to me like the debate is often of competing naturalistic ethics. On reflection though, it seems to me that knowing the facts of the matter here are of little assistance if one does not buy into naturalistic ethics. Whether there are natural sex differences seems to have little bearing (to me) on the rightness or wrongness of most actions pertinent to the debate. Should children be raised in gender neutral ways? Is it wrong for society to treat genders differently? Are gender-based norms (girls wear pink, boys wear blue, etc) harmful? Whether the schism is pre- or post- society seems… not particularly pertinent to the morality of a lot of these questions. That men or women are inclined towards acting in a certain way doesn’t make it right (or wrong) – the origins of different behavioral patterns do not seem particularly relevant to me in examining the way that we want people to act.
The two sides do have dramatically different repercussions for how we should go about achieving our ends through public policy, however I feel the debate is more frequently framed as an issue of what public policy should aim to achieve.
Let me know what you think,